Department of Humanities and Social Sciences

Indian Institute of Technology Ropar

HSS Seminar

‘Issues in Cognitive Neuroscience of Language: what is a 21st-century researcher to do?’


Dr. Veena D. Dwivedi

February 19, 2019, Tuesday, at 3:00 PM.

Venue:  Conference Room 2


We are in the 21st century of studying brain, behaviour and language. That is, we are past the 19th century (Paul Broca’s discovery of left hemisphere), the 20th century use of use of computer-based techniques (e.g., Event Related Potentials or ERPs, and functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or fMRI), and now in the 21st century, have greatly increased our understanding of brain and language. Or have we?

I argue that a key component missing from this research is a proper theoretical underpinning

regarding context vs. grammar, or heuristic vs. algorithm. Because these issues are not clearly defined in the linguistic study of brain and language, interpreting the neural correlates of linguistic behaviour remains unclear. I will present research from my lab, regarding modal subordination, that distinguishes conceptual semantics (i.e., context) vs. compositional semantics (i.e., grammar). Furthermore, I will present my sentence processing model of ‘Heuristic first, algorithmic second’ and connect those findings with ERP language studies in my lab and elsewhere. In addition, I will discuss implications of this and related work for Indian languages, especially regarding Hindi. Finally, given that these issues exist in well-studied European languages, what is a researcher in India to do? I argue that Indians have an advantage, due to Panini’s legacy, starting before the 1st century. Panini was the first grammarian to discuss algorithms. This strong foundation regarding the nature of generative grammar can inform the discipline of cognitive neuroscience of language, in which the nature of grammar and context are largely conflated.


About the speaker:

Veena D. Dwivedi is an associate professor in Psychology/Neuroscience, and Director of the Dwivedi Brain and Language Lab, at Brock University, Canada. After her BSc in Physiology/Immunology from McGill University, she completed a Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (1994) examining syntactic and semantic dependencies in Hindi relative phrases.  She has pioneered the development of experimental studies using formal semantic theory, starting with behavioral work in 1992, then with Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) starting in 2005. Her current research focus is on the cognitive neuroscience of sentence processing, using ERPs.